To Save a Tyrant – “Strange New Worlds” Season 2, Episode 3

The core question at the heart of “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow”, the third episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds second season, is this: What are you willing to do to set the future right? The third episode poses this question to the security chief, La’an Noonien Singh, and presents her with an opportunity to erase her own heritage but at the cost of the universe and friends she cares for. I found this episode to be one of the hardest-hitting emotional rides up to this point in the series.

Spoilers ahead, so don’t read if you haven’t watched the third episode of Star Trek: Strange New Worlds second season.

La’an Noonien Singh is a fascinating character largely because she is so emotionally withdrawn. While a character like Spock is emotionally withdrawn due to his adherence to Vulcan logic, La’an has the double whammy of a dark past and an even darker heritage. La’an’s family bloodline originated with Khan Noonien Singh, the genetically augmented tyrant who rose to power during the Eugenics Wars. Her connection to such a bloodthirsty character has always hung over La’an ever since her introduction last season and has been referenced quite a few times.

In “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow”, La’an is forced to confront that heritage head-on when a mysterious man with a gunshot wound appears in the halls of the USS Enterprise. The man tells La’an to get to the bridge and hands her a device. A strange wave of energy envelops the ship after the man dies. When La’an makes her way to the bridge, she finds a curious sight: instead of Captain Christopher Pike, she finds James T. Kirk. It goes even further when we discovered that the Enterprise is a United Earth Fleet ship and there is no United Federation of Planets. The past has been changed, resulting in a far different future than what we’ve come to expect. The device La’an was given appears to have protected her from the timeline changes. And during an argument with Kirk, the device is activated, sending both La’an and Kirk back to 21st century Toronto.

Time travel episodes are nothing new to Star Trek. Some of the better episodes across the various series incorporate time travel to tell a specific story. There are exceptions to that level of quality (such as almost the entirety of Star Trek: Picard’s second season). La’an and Kirk quickly get their bearings, find clothes, obtain some money, and try to figure out how the timeline has changed. Not long after arriving in the past, the pair witness the destruction of a new bridge system, which also introduces us to the wild conspiracy theorist/photographer Sera. The reluctant companions realize that the technology used to blow up the bridge is clearly future tech.

There are a number of excellent sequences, particularly the car chase that Kirk and La’an engage in. Much of the reason this episode works so well is the obvious chemistry between Christina Chong as La’an and Paul Wesley as Kirk. While there is a fair amount of suspicion and animosity between the two at the beginning, it becomes clear the pair work well together, even developing a bit of an ill-fated romance. Paul Wesley slips into Kirk’s shoes for the second time (the first being the season one finale “A Quality of Mercy”) and carries the iconic Kirk swagger and heartfelt charm well. Christina lets some of the icy exterior La’an habitually uses drop in this episode, revealing a deeply wounded emotional core to the character.

The first hint that something isn’t right about Kirk’s timeline is a moment during the car chase where La’an reveals her full name and Kirk doesn’t recognize it. As we soon learn, the main divergence in their timelines appears to be the destruction of a cold fusion reactor in Toronto. The pair set about finding it, which involves a lengthy trip to Virginia to find Carol Kane’s Pelia (introduced in the second season premiere). I forgive the obvious length of time it would take to get from Toronto to Virginia and back to Toronto because the episode moves at a rather quick pace.

When Kirk and La’an do find the location of the cold fusion reactor, it’s housed in an underground bunker/office complex for the Noonien-Singh Foundation. The reveal that Sera, the photographer the pair met earlier, is actually a Romulan agent was a well-done twist that I wasn’t entirely expecting. The sudden killing of alternate universe Kirk was a hammer blow but a necessary one, since there is already a prime universe Kirk. Two Kirks galivanting about the universe would be too much. Sera’s conversation with La’an reveals that time keeps some things in play, just shifting them around.

When Star Trek: The Original Series first dropped, Khan originally came to power in 1992 and was born around 1959. Due to the progression of our real-world timeline, those events have to be shifted forward. The writers wisely did not set a specific time frame for when La’an and Kirk appeared, only stating that it was roughly the early 21st century. It’s a smart move on the part of the writers to do this, as well as establish that without these events, the Star Trek universe as we know it would not exist.

That last sentiment is where the real gut punch of this episode occurs. Sera leads La’an through the corridors of the Noonien-Singh Foundation to their genetics laboratory. We soon learn that Khan is being kept here in a secure room. Sera forces La’an to open the door, pleading with La’an to let her complete her mission to kill Khan. Without Khan’s brutal reign (along with the other despots that were genetically augmented), the world does not reach the point where the United Federation of Planets can come about. Knowing this, La’an chooses to stop Sera and save Khan. We even get a glimpse of the young Khan after the fight, with La’an giving the boy a short talk where she says he is exactly where he needs to be.

Once La’an returns to her time, she finds that everything is back to the way it should be. She receives a visit from a Temporal Investigations agent, who tells La’an in no uncertain terms that no one can know about her excursion to the past. After making a quick call to Kirk (who in this timeline has not met La’an yet), La’an breaks down crying in her bed. I have to give credit to Christina Chong for those final moments. So much has occurred during the episode that you can’t help but feel for La’an and Christina sells every second of the character’s heartbreak.

Without a doubt, this is one of those episodes of Star Trek that I would show a person to explain why I love this universe so much. From start to finish, “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” doesn’t let up (even in the quieter moments of levity). Faced with the almost-impossible choice of having a life free of the burden of her surname or protecting a child who will grow up to commit horrific crimes, La’an chooses to stay true to herself and her moral compass. The fact that in doing so she knows she is condemning countless souls to death is not undersold. And for those of us who are fans of Star Trek, we know that Khan is still waiting out in deep space to be found by Kirk during the events of The Original Series. A great episode from top to bottom and one I cannot recommend enough to fans and non-fans of Star Trek.

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